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Help me change my town's leadership!
August 12, 2009 11:30 AM   Subscribe

I need some help organizing a group of political newbies to help in small-town politics. Degree of difficulty: many potential helpers will not get involved due to fear of media retribution.

I live in a small new england town (which I won't name, but if you're familiar with the situation you might know). We have a town meeting form of government. We have a 5-member board of selectmen, a town moderator, and an interim town administrator (the previous TA was fired and has yet to been permanently replaced). Many members of the community are quite frustrated with the current leadership, and two selectmen and the moderator are up for re-election in April. This seems to be the best opportunity for the townspeople to change the leadership, but the devil, as they say, is in the details.

There is a local weekly paper and website in the town that has repeatedly attacked people who have tried to oppose the current leadership. Because of this, many of the people who have been involved in the past are reluctant to get involved again, but there is a new group of people who are all fired up, but have no previous experience. There is, however, one person who has the experience and is willing to stick his neck out.

So, if you're still reading, here are my question(s):
1. With one person who has the background, what sorts of organization/training/etc do the new folks need?
2. Is there a good website service, or software I can install on a website, to help with the organization? I'm hoping for something more than a standard forum/blog. I'd like it to be able to provide communication, planning, fundraising, etc.
3. Any tips from people who have been down this road before? Anything specific with fighting back against a low-budget paper with a decent-sized readership that takes liberties with the truth? I've already documented many of the distortions, but I'm not sure how to get that information to the paper's readers.

Thanks!
posted by um_maverick to Law & Government (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not sure what side of the great American partisan divide you're on, but both Daily Kos (Dem/blue) and Red State (GOP/red) are frequented by political-organizing black belts of their respective color jerseys, who salivate at challenges like this. Throw up a diary or two, and see if someone will lend a hand that might have done it before.

As for my own personal opinion? Go door-to-door. Don't let the obviously-biased local media get the last laugh, and don't fear the smear - it comes with the territory as a politician. It sounds like there's enough frustration there, that you'll find a lot of sympathetic people, and if they all realize that you're in this together, that's what starts change moving. You may get called this and that by the local rag, but you can still get votes.
posted by Citrus at 12:05 PM on August 12, 2009


3. Any tips from people who have been down this road before? Anything specific with fighting back against a low-budget paper with a decent-sized readership that takes liberties with the truth? I've already documented many of the distortions, but I'm not sure how to get that information to the paper's readers.


Have you talked to the paper? Called up whatever reporter is writing the articles and say you feel there's been some distortions, is there anyway you could meet up and chat about it? He's got pages to fill, and a full profile of you, your group, and your efforts to counter the current council would fill them and give you a chance to get your message in front of their leaders much better than a letter to the editor would do. After all, "newly formed group of concerned citizens plans to challenge council" is a story.

I wouldn't guarantee you that you'd get what you'd consider a fair shake out of such an experience --- but if you're trying to persuade the readership of the paper, then from within its pages would seem to be the way to go....you'd be better off than flyers, anyway.
posted by Diablevert at 12:08 PM on August 12, 2009


Door to door.

That is where all and any meaningful change has to happen. Door to door, and in your case, under the radar.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:11 PM on August 12, 2009


Citrus, good call on contacting the political blogs, I'll see what they have up there. To be honest, I don't even know what party the current folks on the board are. All I know is they're.....bad :)

Diablevert, multiple people have tried talking to the local paper, but the words have been twisted repeatedly, to the point that people in the "opposition" won't respond to the reporter/owner/publisher (it's a one-person operation). While I can understand their frustration, this has the unfortunate side-effect of making the stories even more one-sided, as the "opposition" gets no voice.
posted by um_maverick at 12:13 PM on August 12, 2009


Door to door is where the magic happens.

But, I am willing to bet there is a shit load of doors in your town. Go to your board of elections, get a database for the election district, and start going to those who have voted in 4/4 and 3/4 of the last elections. You can visit the other guys, but you would be amazed the candidates I have seen waste their time on people who never, ever vote.
posted by munchingzombie at 12:45 PM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does anyone really pay attention to the political articles in the local weekly? Or do people just buy it for the school committee meeting minutes and the photos of cute babies and the obituaries?

Because to be honest (and I say this as someone who has written for local weeklies and whose brother has edited local weeklies), the political opinions of local newspaper editors carry less weight than a sparrow's fart with most people.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:47 PM on August 12, 2009


Sidhedevil, this particular rag has the ears (eyes?) of a particular voting block in town. It's distributed for free at the senior center, distributed free with meals on wheels, etc... For those folks, it's the only media they see, so they believe whatever he writes
posted by um_maverick at 1:07 PM on August 12, 2009


The Western Organization of Resource Councils has some excellent material on the nuts and bolts of community organizing that might help.
posted by paultopia at 2:06 PM on August 12, 2009


Sidhedevil, this particular rag has the ears (eyes?) of a particular voting block in town. It's distributed for free at the senior center, distributed free with meals on wheels, etc... For those folks, it's the only media they see, so they believe whatever he writes

Then maybe the best organizing tool to use first would be to create an alternative newsletter?
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:45 PM on August 12, 2009


Random thoughts, much of which only works if you nail your colours to the mast. I can't see under the radar working. Be loud and proud. Ignore anyone on the other side who think they can get away with being a dick - they are self important amateurs.

One technique I have seen is producing your own paper and delivering it yourself. I know, I know: It's a pain to make and can be expensive. At the very least, you should have some literature of some sort that very clearly makes your case in about three points and has a memoerable strapline for your group. Ideally you would change your pamphlets frequently. People don't change their minds when they read a single pamphlet. But if they get five pamphlets over three months, see you in the news, talk to a candidate/a campaigner on their doorstep, and see your signs around the place, they will build an impression that you are a votable option.

Diablevert has a point about getting in touch with the papers. Try to be staging an event of some sort. 'We' exist! We're pissed! Interview?' isn't as interesting as 'We will be at X place at Y o' clock demonstrating against Z with dozens of people'.

Try to identify a local issue that people are angry about and become the go to guys on that - the local experts, the ones with ideas. Is the local A&E being closed? Does a school have too many kids per class? Are there loads of potholes and dogshit on the roads? I don't know what people in these positions are responsible for, but you catch my drift. You can go from being anonymites to being strongly associated with a single issue that people will want to support you on. Then build it from there.

Nthing going door to door. It's the bread and better of campaigning. Two weeks of that and you will be all hardened vets.

Voter profiling - understand who they are, where they live, what their concerns are. Target your resources accordingly.

Remember that people are naturally conservative. They also change their minds eventually.
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 3:44 PM on August 12, 2009


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